The 2012 Stephen King and Joe Hill novella “In the Tall Grass” spins creeping terror from a simple idea: What if a brother and sister go looking for a crying child in a vast field in the middle of nowhere, then can’t find their way out?
Writer-director Vincenzo Natali is best-known for the 1997 cult movie “Cube,” about a stark maze filled with invisible death traps. He has some experience with staging an entire feature film in a largely featureless location, and his adaptation of “In the Tall Grass” has real visual flair, treating an endless expanse of swaying green vegetation as a kind of eerie fog, hiding unimaginable dangers.
Natali doesn’t do as well though at making those dangers feel … well, dangerous. His “In the Tall Grass” starts out like the book: Laysla De Oliveira plays the pregnant, unwed Becky Demuth, who along with her brother Cal (Avery Whitted) is driving across the country when they hear a boy shouting for his parents in a field across from “the Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer.” When they enter the field to help, they get lost — although they do keep running into the boy, the mother, the father and a mysterious rune-covered black boulder.
The movie burns through a lot of the book’s plot early, then introduces a new character — Becky’s boyfriend, Travis (Harrison Gilbertson) — and a time-looping element that allows Natali to circle back and bring in pieces of King and Hill’s story he skipped the first time.
But despite the handsome Craig Wrobleski cinematography, and despite a typically fine performance by Patrick Wilson as the lost kid’s dad — slowly going mad in the bush — “In the Tall Grass” runs too long and repeats itself too much to be as gripping as its source material. Turns out there’s a limit to how scary weeds can be.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: Available on Netflix